CHICAGO — Building on his commitment to help Illinois veterans transition back to into civilian life, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced that the state was awarded more than $2 million dollars from the US Department of Health and Human Services to implement a pilot program in Cook and Rock Island counties to increase jail diversion services for veterans with mental illnesses.
The Veterans Reintegration Initiative (VRI) will build on and create new partnerships among state agencies, local authorities, justice departments, community organizations and services providers to expand and define an infrastructure for intervention for veterans to prevent their involvement in the criminal justice system.
“The transition from combat zones to community life can be extremely difficult for returning service members. In Illinois we are working to ensure that veterans have access to the services they need when returning from war so that they can successfully transition back to civilian life,” said Governor Blagojevich. “This $2 million grant will help us attain our goal to better serve our veterans who have risked their lives to serve their country.”
Veterans in the criminal justice system with mental illness represent a growing population with unique service needs. Returning veterans often face barriers to successful reintegration into their communities that include a lack of communication between veterans, justice and treatment systems as well as a lack of access to services such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, housing and trauma-informed treatment.
The VRI is a mutual collaboration between the Illinois Department of Human Services, Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) as well as stakeholders from local authorities, justice departments, community organizations and services providers. The pilot project will be implemented in the Cook and Rock Island counties in two phases over the next five years. During the planning phase, key stakeholders will help to develop a comprehensive strategic plan. This plan will jump start the implementation phase, which leverages and enhances existing models of intervention at multiple stages of justice involvement and establishes a formal link between services and justice/treatment interventions.
IDHS has taken a leadership role in developing significant statewide initiatives to address the needs of justice-involved individuals with mental illness at every stage, including diversion, correctional programming, and offender reentry.
“After fighting for our country, our veterans deserve to come home to the best services we can provide,” said Carol Adams, Ph.D, Secretary, Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). “Without this assistance, veterans with mental health challenges or substance abuse problems can lack the support needed to successfully reintegrate. Too many of them find can themselves caught in a cycle of homelessness, hospitalization, or incarceration.”
“Veterans returning from combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan are expected to quickly transition back into their civilian communities, which can create challenges for them and their loved ones. While service members are anxious to get home, we must offer them all the support we can to make that transition as smooth as possible. That may mean assistance with employment, affordable housing or access to the medical care they need,” explained IDVA Director Tammy Duckworth.
“I am proud to say that Illinois has been a national leader for our veterans, with first in the nation programs including the Illinois Warrior Assistance Program that offers assistance for our returning veterans suffering from substance abuse problems, traumatic brain injuries, or post traumatic stress disorder. With this new grant, we will continue to increase the mental health services that are available to our state’s veterans,” Director Duckworth continued.
In January, Illinois became the first state in the nation to launch a Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder program for returning Illinois veterans. The Illinois Warrior Assistance Program offers a 24-hour, toll-free helpline at 1-866-554-IWAP (4927), which is staffed by health professionals to assist Veterans, day or night, with the symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and provides Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) screening to all interested Illinois veterans, especially those returning from Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). The Warrior Assistance Program also makes TBI screenings mandatory for all returning members of the Illinois Army National Guard.
If you are a Veteran or service member suffering from symptoms associated with PTSD, or if you think someone you care about may be experiencing post-deployment stress or other combat-related emotional issues, call the Illinois Warrior Assistance Program confidential 24-hour toll-free helpline, 1-866-554-IWAP (4927) for more information and help. You can also visit www.illinoiswarrior.com for more information about the program.